Moulting and breeding cost birds a lot of energy. So it would make sense for the animals to do these two things at separate times. Yet slaty brush finches (Atlapetes schistaceus) in the Colombian rainforest moult and breed at one and the same time.
Life can be exhausting for the slaty brush finch: in this tropical bird species, breeding and moulting overlap. Not surprisingly, this double burden takes a toll on the bird's fitness.
© MPI for Ornithology
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell and Princeton University therefore decided to examine whether this double burden presented evolutionary disadvantages to the tropical birds. What they found is that the wing feathers of birds that breed and moult at the same time are lighter and shorter than in birds that go through these phases consecutively. Also, their flight speed during escape flights is slower on average. This possible loss of evolutionary fitness is likely to be offset by as yet unknown positive effects.Because feathers become continually worn down, birds regularly renew their plumage. When moulting, the flying ability of some animals can either be reduced or totally impaired, and they are less protected from the cold. Moulting also uses up a lot of energy. Birds therefore avoid other energy-intensive activities when they are moulting. So moulting and breeding usually take place separately, as they would otherwise both be competing for valuable energy reserves.
PLoS One, 9 May 2013
Prof. Dr. Michaela Hau | Max-Planck-Institute
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